BUSANI NGCAWENI: Professionalisation of the public sector must be sped up


Across the world, governments are continually seized with the issue of securing high levels of professionalism amongst appointed and elected officials. South Africa is no exception and now stands to change the professionalisation trajectory in its public sector substantively. Since 1994, various initiatives have been undertaken to ensure that the public service functions effectively and in keeping with the fundamental principles of the Constitution.

The Ministerial Task Team appointed by the Minister for Public Service and Administration to peer review and stress test the draft professionalisation framework produced by the National School of Government, is in the final stages of consolidating its report. It is anticipated that the final report will be submitted to Cabinet in the first quarter of 2022. The far-reaching recommendations contained in the professionalisation framework anticipate a substantive reshaping of state capacity to secure the highest levels of professionalism across all public institutions.

Many public servants are working diligently and ethically to provide public services; yet the few who are scoundrels taint the entire system. The professionalisation strategy aims to change this, buy building capabilities that improve performance, impact and boost public trust. Central to the approach is a commitment to correct the spectre of maladministration, wasteful and fruitless expenditure and the lack of responsive service delivery. Revelations at the state capture commission are a marker that professionalisation of the public sector needs to gain momentum.

The 6th Administration identified the establishment of a capable, ethical, and developmental state as a key priority. It is envisaged that such a state will be characterised by good leadership, a functional, efficient and integrated system staffed by professional, meritocratic, accountable and ethical public servants.

The National School of Government (NSG) has been tasked to lead this process of drafting the professionalisation framework, as it is central to the empowerment of public sector officials to be responsive to the needs of citizens and government’s priorities through education, training and development interventions. Last week, the NSG took another step to execute this mandate when it hosted the 22nd Public Sector Trainers’ Forum (PSTF) with the theme: “Trainer Professionalisation and the Art of Facilitation.” The PSTF serves to promote human resource development as an enabler to the core development agenda of the government. The PSTF, which has more than 1,000 practitioners across all spheres of government, is recognised as the main networking platform for human resource practitioners.

The partnership of the National School of Government and the European Union, through the Public Sector Capacity Development programme has enabled the PSTF to arrange a series of provincial Peer Learning Network Sessions in the 2020/2021 financial year. The focus of these sessions has been on enhancing the capacity of human resource development practitioners. It is anticipated that this will be extended to colleagues at local government in the future. Human resources development practitioners are the custodians of training at their respective departments, and it is important that they understand the importance of ETD interventions for the professionalisation trajectory. Equally important, is that they must understand the mandate of the current administration. They are central in the process of ensuring that appropriate training courses are identified and delivered to sharpen the skills of their colleagues so that we can build a public sector that is efficient, effectives, innovative and responsive.

Importantly for the overall strategy is to promote ongoing training and development for public servants. Government cannot have a situation where employees go for two years without attending a refresher or a development course. It is hence imperative that public servants come back to the simulator for the public sector to create responsive cadres who are service-oriented and who put the citizens first. Aircraft pilots are required to return to the simulator at least once a year to sharpen their skills, stay abreast of new developments in the industry and get rid of bad habits. Similarly, the NSG has introduced new and innovative courses and programmes that will be beneficial to the public sector and the country.

Compulsory and demand-led education and training are provided to serving and prospective public servants as well as public representatives through a range of accredited and non-accredited programmes and courses. As part of its repositioning, the NSG has introduced new and innovative courses and programmes, which will ensure that the basic values and principles of public administration are inculcated into the value system and performance of all public servants and representatives through education, training and development (ETD) initiatives. This is done through its curriculum design, development and delivery approach with the practical application of participatory, people-centred methodologies and indigenous techniques during the ETD initiatives, in building a caring ethos and citizen-centred service delivery focus amongst public servants. This approach consciously focuses on the application of the values and principles and the realisation of public administrative justice to all whom the public sector serves.

Two compulsory flagship courses are the free online course on Ethics in the Public Service and the paid Nyukela Public Service Senior Management Pre-entry programme. Both courses proved to be popular in 2020/21 financial with over 19,000 enrolments for the ethics course and 11,507 for the Nyukela course being recorded. Chapter 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) states that one of the basic values and principles governing public administration should be a high standard of professional ethics. These values and principles are applicable to administration in every sphere of government; organs of State; and public entities. It is thus good that the ethics course has become so popular among public servants. These courses are intended to advance the capable, ethical, and developmental State and ensure that future generations will recall this period as a watershed moment in the development of the public sector.

The NSG’s work is not limited to the country, and it is increasingly expanding its footprint in the continent by leading and contributing to capacity building. The organisation has developed a training programme in support of the African Union Charter on the Values and Principals of Public Service and Administration and a further programme on Governance in Africa. The Khaedu Training programme is being delivered across the continent, with the latest being done in partnership with Ghana.

The NSG is determined to continue being an active participant to build an ethical and capable public sector in service of the people, assisting the public sector to be equipped to deliver on the goals outlined in the National Development Plan 2030 and fundamentally in the Constitution of the Republic as well.

Busani Ngcaweni is co-editor of 'We are No Longer at Ease: The Struggle for #FeesMustFall'. Follow him on Twitter: @busaningcaweni_